Dolly

February 3, 2013 at 6:40 pm (Dani Clark, Soliloquy)

When I started showing with my son, Dolly started telling me she was pregnant too. Grinning, she would look down and rub her distended belly. “It’s a female child,” she would nod, “due in nine months.”

“Gonna drive down to Tennessee to have it,” she would say. “Fawtha’s outta the picture, see. You’re looking mighty pretty today. Might you spare some change for a Pepsi?”

That scene occurred five years ago and many times hence. Dolly is dead now, of a large malignant tumor in her belly, one we all could have told you had been there for years, but which the doctors of her urine-saturated, profit-turning nursing home only recently diagnosed.

Usually Dolly would linger near the vending machines, hoping on the kindness of strangers, or at least their susceptibility to compliments. She tottered, often barefoot, but her skinny legs were strong. From the incoherence I knew that dementia or Alzheimer’s was to blame for her residency at the nursing home.

But the thing about Dolly, the thing that really got me: her tales were as tangled as her gaze was real.

I visited Dolly 10 days before she died. It was two days before Christmas and I can see her still.

In her room I find her, sitting upright in bed and fidgeting to straighten the hospital gown over the tops of her thighs. I glance at her diaper, yellowed and bunched into a V shape by her incessant adjusting. An oxygen tube has fallen around her neck.

“Hi Dolly,” I say. “Are you ok? We just had our Christmas party downstairs. I brought you a bag of candy.” Now if Dolly were sane I would tell you what the look in her eyes said: I am trapped. Something is wrong. You need to know this.

But she has never been sane, at least not the last five years, and her words belie the eyes. “How do you do? You look so pretty” she says, following quickly with, “Could I have a Pepsi, dear?” As I am thanking her for the compliment, a preacher and his wife walk in.

The duo are so far outside my milieu they almost seem like movie characters. They are black like Dolly. He wears an ill-fitted suit and frosty the snowmen dance on his tie. He is missing two teeth, one from the top and one from the bottom. His shoes are patent leather and he carries a well-worn paperback Bible. The woman is dressed up in red, and like him, she is smiling.

“We have come to offer prayers. Isn’t that better than a Pepsi now? Everyone needs prayers Dolly, so let us read from Psalm 101,” says the nameless preacher opening his bible. Dolly sits up straighter in the bed, but her face registers confusion. “Everyone gather round Dolly now and hold hands.”

Dolly’s head whips around, searching everyone’s eyes. She is upset and I am beginning to feel that way too. But then, as if a hypnotist has snapped his fingers somewhere, she slackens, docile before the prayers. Tears well in my eyes, but I can’t wipe them because I am holding hands with the preacher and his wife.

“My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me.”

Why God? I think as the preacher goes on sing-song. How can it be me, the person here with Dolly? It’s not fair to her, I have no words.  Actually, I have nothing. You should not entrust this to me. It’s too grand. Dolly came into this world a screaming infant from a woman who bore her for nine months and patted her own belly. Dolly ran and played, probably barefoot on clay or concrete, who the hell knows, maybe you. And her life is so much more than–so far beyond–any similarly naive image I can conjure. Please be with Dolly, be with Dolly, be with Dolly. Please God.

Standing over Dolly, I see the flack flesh of her leg hanging over the femur. It is light brown and scaly. I am so sad for her. Does she know what’s going on here? Or does she just want someone to buy her a damned can of Pepsi?

When the prayer is done Dolly says her baby is due soon. She pats her belly then rummages in the brown paper bag of candy. She looks up. “It’s a female child,” she says. The preacher and his wife chuckle at this and leave the room, on to the next needy soul.

It is then that the awareness spreads through me like spilled milk on a wide table: Yes, my dear Dolly, you are waiting for your child. We are all waiting. We still hope.

I sit on the edge of the bed and lean in close, taking her cheeks between my palms. I love you Dolly. I love you, honey. Goodbye sweetie, I have to go. I love you.

I kiss the top of Dolly’s head, my lips on her gray curly hair; I pivot quickly and walk out the door.

– Dani Clark.

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